University of Calgary Creates Borealis

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Built for those working in remote regions, the University of Calgary designed a home that is both sustainable and comfortable for this year’s Solar Decathlon.

The southern facing side of Team Alberta's Solar Decathlon home.

The Borealis by Team Alberta utilized both photovoltaics (PV) as well as solar thermal for energy and to moderate the temperature of the house.

They placed 1st in both the Hot Water and Energy Balance categories, making more energy from solar than the house needed or used. The overall cost of the house with the energy system and all the appliances was $270,079.

The Solar Decathlon truly tests a home’s performance. In order to receive a score in the Entertainment event, each team must host two dinner parties and screen an accompanying film. This tests the home’s general electrical systems and the combined efficiency of the appliances. They aren’t sitting around saving electricity and using candles. They’re watching films on large screen TVs, making multi-course meals and leaving the lights on. It’s all powered by the sun. Here are the Dinner Menus and Recipes from the University of Calgary. (12 pg pdf and includes recipes for a pear and Gouda crostini).

Photo Gallery

I took the opportunity to see the homes while they were open to the public. Click or tap on an image to see it in a larger format. Click or tap the right side of the image to view the next image.


  • The three-module design features a core shared module with a kitchen that separates two private modules that can be configured as work or rest spaces.
  • A living wall in the bathroom hosts plant life for cooling, air purification, and connection to nature throughout the year and is sustained by large sun-tunnel skylights.
  • Exterior cladding uses sustainable products such as responsibly sourced, naturally moisture- and rot-resistant cedar wood siding and fiber cement boards that use post-industrial waste wood fiber.
  • Large, south-facing windows provide natural light and views to the outdoors and open to provide passive cross-ventilation.


  • A roof-mounted solar photovoltaic array is controlled by a system that monitors individual panels to allow site-specific array optimization. Micro-inverters allow maximum production of electricity from every panel without the array being dependent on any one panel.
  • Light-emitting diode fixtures are used throughout the house to achieve ultra-high efficiency and use 10 times less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs.
  • A custom energy monitoring system provides feedback on the lighting, appliance, and mechanical loads and enables optimization of the mechanical system at any location using a simple Web interface.
  • The central mechanical room controls all activity within the house from one location.
  • A solar water heating system harnesses the sun’s energy to heat domestic hot water.

Final Overall Scores

The team finished in 9th place with a total of 913.574 points.

The team finished in 9th place with a total of 913.574 points.

The final score is a summation of task completion, monitored performance of the homes and jury evaluations within 10 events.

All of the teams achieved really great things in the Solar Decathlon to design, build, finish, dismantle, transport, rebuild, compete in the competition and display the homes to help educate the public.

Features and technologies sections from

Visit the team’s website:

Keya Lea

Keya Lea likes to spend time outside, enjoying the sun.

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